Dr. Anna Arlotta-Guerrero who joined PEDC in Spring of 2022 and is the Associate Professor of Practice, CASE Teacher Preparation Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.
PEDC’s mission is to increase the diversity of the educator workforce & create a culturally relevant and sustaining education system here in PA. How do you push this work forward in your personal and/or professional capacity?
Have you worked on any projects or initiatives that positively impact the recruiting, mentoring, retaining, or promoting the well-being of BIPOC teachers? If so, how?
Fortunately for me, recruiting, mentoring, and retaining BIPOC students/teachers is at the foundation of all our work at the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland. I have been involved in this work extensively since leadership changed in 2017 and it became a top initiative for all of us.
I’ve seen an increase in BIPOC students in the dual certification program that I coordinate called Combined Accelerated Studies in Education (CASE). For years I’ve recruited BIPOC teacher prep students and added, what are now CR-SE competencies, to CASE classes. Retention is at 100% because of the content of our classes and our supportive work in advising and mentoring while students are with us at Pitt, when they are in their induction years and beyond.
CASE students first earn a B.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology (ADP) and I truly believe that the sorts of classes, discussions, and experiences that we provide as part of this degree has been a game changer in preparation for all students including BIPOC students. We say we teach the whole adult.
Part of the ADP degree, besides content methodology courses, include courses focused on child and adolescent development, CR-SE focused courses and embedded work that centers social emotional learning, mental health, and trauma sensitive teaching which supports the well-being of our students as well. We integrate these with working and engaging in the community and understanding humanizing pedagogies for all.
My chairperson Dr. Tom Farmer always tells me that CASE should be a model for teacher preparation. I agree!
Why are you passionate about increasing educator diversity?
I’ve thought about this need personally and professionally for many years. My own sons would have loved to have been taught by teachers who looked like them. We moved back to Pennsylvania from Texas when they were in second and fourth grades and it was evident that they were in a culture shock.
They were used to being in school with many children from around the world, especially from their own cultural background who are Latinos and Hispanics. Many teachers in their former schools came from these backgrounds as well. They had not experienced racist comments at school before we moved. We did have positive experiences in that district, however there was a severe lack of understanding about teaching and welcoming BIPOC students.
When my sons were both in school at Pitt, I often mistook other young men as them from afar. It was a great experience to see others who looked like them on campus. Although Pitt is not as racially diverse as many students think, it is much more so than the suburban school districts around the city of Pittsburgh. Professionally I’ve seen an increase in the number of BIPOC students enrolled in the CASE program that I coordinate at Pitt.
Each student, at one time or another, has shared with me that one of the reasons they want to teach is so children can see themselves in their teachers. Most of my students did not have that opportunity growing up in their schools and I want to do all that I can to change those statistics.
A group of Pitt CASE students visiting schools in Dallas in our Study Away program to work in Dual Immersion classrooms over spring break. Pre-kindergarteners are "teaching" our students, in Spanish, how to cope with a Codeapillar.
What challenges are you experiencing in this work?
We are fortunate at the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland to have Dean Kinloch leading us in our efforts to not only increase educator diversity, but to also analyze our teacher preparation curriculum to be assured that we are teaching and using CR-SE competencies so that all students understand the importance of humanizing pedagogies.
Are there any regional (or statewide) specific challenges you are facing?
I believe that there is an urgency to move this work forward in Pennsylvania. The numbers of racially and linguistically diverse teachers in this state lag far behind many other states. CR-SE competencies should be a non-negotiable addition to all teacher preparation programs in the state and it is important that they are rolled out quickly.
There has sometimes been a false sense in Pennsylvania that our public education system is one of the very best in the country. Because the rise in the immigrant and English Learner population happened more quickly in other states, a need to understand more about best practices in teaching these populations happened in the early 2000s, way before it came to our state.
I just attended an inspiring talk the other day that was a discussion between the new Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) Dr. Wayne Walters and Pitt’s Dean Kinloch. It was an intriguing conversation and Dr. Walters said something that I completely believe and it should be food for thought for everyone.
He was asked what his dreams were for PPS and he responded (and I am paraphrasing a bit) “We should have dreams and goals of what we need to do in public education. However, there must be deadlines attached to those dreams and goals.” I fully agree. We cannot dream forever. Providing an equitable education for all children has been an urgent need for a very long time.
What are some of your needs?
Funding is always a need and can be a support for initiatives that we want to pursue in higher education. The grant for teacher preparation from PDE is great for some, however more is needed for all of us.
We have critical questions about public education here in Pennsylvania and across the country and we can broaden our view by visiting and understanding more about school districts and programs in and outside of our state that are successful and supporting the growth of all children. It takes funding to be able to make these sorts of investigation and learning trips.
I would love to be involved in something like this where we could visit IHEs who collaborate successfully with their local school districts to bring high quality, holistic and equitable education to all children. Another need for me personally, and I believe for many of us in IHEs and public education is to do what I mentioned Dr. Walter’s stated above. We need to set deadlines to make improvements in education systems. There is always a lot of “red tape” in getting things done in education systems.
However, from my own personal experience teaching for a long time in another state there tends to be double the red tape in Pennsylvania. Let’s disrupt, innovate and move along the really important initiatives that could bring great change to education in our state.
Are you affiliated with any other organizations working towards addressing the recruiting, mentoring, retaining, or promoting the wellbeing of BIPOC teachers?
I have been involved over the years in lobbying for a full certification for ESL and Bilingual teachers in Pennsylvania. We have what is called an ESL Program Specialist endorsement in our state which equates to those being prepared not having to take a certification test to teach.
People wanting to teach Family and Consumer Sciences, or Driver’s Education in Pennsylvania need a teacher certification, however not those wanting to teach our ever-growing number of English Learners. We can read into that what we want but, for me, it doesn’t make sense.
As I mentioned earlier, I coordinate and lead the CASE program at the University of Pittsburgh and am very involved in the work of our students. I am engaged in the community through our PittEnrich tutoring program that is staffed by mostly CASE students. We collaborate with our Community Engagement Center, as well as Faison and Lincoln Elementary schools in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Also, in one of my classes, students carry out a community engagement project. I try to make sure that they are placed in organizations and schools where they are welcomed and supported. We have many BIPOC leaders in our community and they act as models for our students. This, I believe, along with supportive and loving mentoring and advising helps students enjoy our programs and feel like they are a respected part of the community.
Former student Simeon McCray, a 2021 graduate. This is a photo of him student-teaching in kindergarten at Faison Elementary in Pittsburgh Public Schools. Simeon is currently teaching Special Education in a district near Philadelphia.
Did you attend the recent 2022 PEDC virtual summit? What were some valuable takeaways?
I did attend the 2022 PEDC virtual summit last June and I was impressed by the entire event which was my first exposure to the PEDC. I have been very involved ever since on committees and have enjoyed my conversations with PEDC leadership.
The talks and discussions at the summit, as well as those that take place in committee meetings are honest and focused. Thus, one of the most valuable takeaways for me personally was to find a community of learners and leaders who want to make great changes in education in our state. More specifically I was happy to hear the discussion by the Research for Action group that shared statistics about the ratio of teachers and students in Pennsylvania.
Seeing the numbers up on the screen with the presentation impacted many people. Statistics make a difference, and I am happy that they were shared. I was watching this and googling at the same time the ratio statistics in the state where I taught for 15 years. Pennsylvania is far behind and that fact isn’t very well known. I also loved the discussion with current teachers discussing the need for diversifying the educator workforce.
One of my former CASE students, Bri Amoscato, was invited to speak in this session and it was a proud moment to listen to her and others. The entire summit was inspiring and included so many different voices from current PK-12 students, to teachers, to advocacy groups and IHEs.
Have you used any of the PEDC available resources & toolkits? If so, how?
I have enjoyed reviewing the many resources and toolkits on the PEDC website and have shared these with some of my colleagues who are not a part of the organization. I believe that sometimes ideas about best practices in recruiting, mentoring, and retention are a part of who someone is as a person.
This may be due to your own personal background or other learning experiences that you’ve encountered along the way. For others though, it is unknown. Thus, the toolkits offer a roadmap for faculty, staff and leadership to follow when they become serious about increasing the numbers of BIPOC students in teacher preparation programs and in PK-12 classrooms. I am now reviewing the PEDC and Teach Plus ARP/ESSER Spending Guide. I am very interested in residency programs since one of my sons is a part of one in Denver.
At first, I pushed back a little on this route for him to become a teacher. However, I’ve learned a lot and know that this can be a very successful and innovative way for a dedicated person to become an effective teacher. This is something that I want to investigate and become involved in more deeply in the future. Alternative ways of learning have become a part of many career paths.
Part of disrupting the field of education, I believe, will be the successful implementation of preparing teachers in more innovative, holistic, and less structured programs. Everyone at PEDC has done such an impressive job in bringing together people from across the state and sharing so many resources!
How can people connect with you and continue to follow your work?
Follow me on LinkedIn!
Welcome to the PEDC Member Spotlight! This monthly blog series highlights the diverse ways those in our community are progressing towards creating a culturally relevant and sustaining education system here in Pennsylvania.